March Madness is finally here and the women’s bracket is full of intrigue and opportunity for our regional favorites
By Tony Fay
Ladies (and gentlemen), REV those engines. The white flag has just flown and the race to Dallas for the 2017 NCAA Women’s Final Four has sped into its heated final lap.
With less than three weeks until the first games tip-off at the American Airlines Center, a clear road map emerged during Selection Monday for the 64 teams dreaming of hoisting the National Champion trophy on April 2.
And there is much to crow about for several local schools.
Baylor could conceivably win a national title without hopping on an airplane. The Lady Bears secured the No. 1 seed in the Oklahoma City Regional, which is a mere 287 miles from Waco (and should they keep winning, the American Airlines Center sits at right about 90 miles from Baylor’s Ferrell Center). This is the best possible draw for a team that was banged up and struggled a bit down the stretch. Their stunning loss to West Virginia in the Big 12 Championship Game had some naysayers speculating they’d be punished when the seeds were announced. They weren’t.
Kim Mulkey’s 30-3 squad played to its paper throughout the season. It won’t be an easy road for Baylor – with potential roadblocks against 29-4 Mississippi State and 27-5 Washington.
And let’s not look past Baylor’s first round matchup. Texas Southern, at 23-9 and champs of the SWAC are as salty a No. 16 seed as Baylor could have drawn. This is the first ever NCAA appearance by Texas Southern and on a weekend when Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is expected to dominate the domestic box office, the Lady Tigers hope to upstage Belle with their imitation of Cinderella.
Baylor’s Big 12 rivals, No. 3 seed Texas (23-8) and No. 7 seed Kansas State (22-10) also have to be grinning. Both have daunting tasks getting out of a Lexington bracket that features No. 1 seed Notre Dame (30-3) and No. 2 seed Stanford (28-5), but each will host games on their home floors this weekend. Nice rewards for fighting through a brutal conference lineup that saw six schools elbow their way into the final field.
Oklahoma (22-9) and a No. 6 seed in the Oklahoma City bracket, will have to travel to the Pacific Northwest and battle through opening weekend skirmishes in Seattle before the prospect of playing in front of a partisan crowd in the second weekend.
Meanwhile, West Virginia (23-10 and No. 6 seed) and Iowa State (18-12 and a No. 9 seed) will have to come out of the Bridgeport region, where a little school named UConn (32-0 and the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed) awaits. In case you’ve been living in the proverbial cave, you might not know that UConn has a) its own HBO show right now, b) won a record 107-straight games and c) has cut down the nets four-straight years. So, yeah… they’re good.
Texas A&M (21-11 and a No. 5 seed) isn’t much more fortunate. It will open in Los Angeles against Penn, before a likely second round matchup against home standing UCLA. Should the Aggies prevail there, it would be back east for UConn in Bridgeport.
It should all make for great television starting on Friday. And if you haven’t gotten your ticket yet for the Women’s Final Four at the AAC, one question – why not?